As warm weather hits the area, PennDOT is beginning its construction season throughout the state. For drivers, construction zones will be popping up in random locations which can cause major problems if distracted drivers are unaware of the work hazard.

According to PennDOT safety press officer David Thompson, last year Pennsylvania had 1,800 vehicle crashes in work zones, resulting in 21 fatalities, most of them being motorists. While the crashes were caused by a number of factors, distracted and aggressive driving certainly played a roll, Thompson said.

He continued, "People working in work zones often are using heavy equipment and engaging in tasks that require 100 percent concentration to be performed safely." Distracted drivers only add to this risk.

However, this is far from being a new problem.

Thompson stated that between 2008 and 2012 in Pennsylvania there have been over 67,000 accidents where at least one distracted driver was involved. The problem has existed well before 2008, as Thompson said, "I suspect there has been a problem as long as there have been cell phones and people willing to use them while driving."

PennDOT is continuing to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving through utilizing media outlets and various outreach efforts, but according to Thompson, "We continue to have a problem with distracted driving, but I hope and pray the message takes root, especially with our younger drivers. It may take time, the same way it took time to change public attitudes about impaired driving and seat belt use, but it will be worth it."

While cell phones catch much of the flack in distracted driving cases, it is not the only activity which can cause accidents. Eating, drinking, reading, personal grooming, dealing with unruly children, talking to passengers, constantly changing radio stations and smoking all play parts in the distracted driving debacle.

But Thompson went on to specifically speak out against texting, which he described as the "big issue."

"Texting behind the wheel is extremely dangerous because of the amount of time it takes a person's eyes off the road. If it takes five seconds to write and send a text, at 55 miles per hour, your vehicle will travel the length of a football field," he explained.

Teens are known to be the largest offenders of distracted driving, Thompson said. Eleven percent of teens involved in fatal accidents in 2011 were distracted when the crash occurred. But teens are not the only group to be blamed, as Thompson said, "It impacts all age groups."

Tim Zyla can be reached at (570) 265-1634; or e-mail: